Monday, November 14, 2005

Under Western eyes

There are some quite sane comments in a report of a conference held a couple of months ago as part of Princeton's project on US "National Security in the 21st Century" (and recently published on the web) .

On "Europe", for example, there were two schools of thought: pessmists and optimists.

"[The pessimists] argue that Europe will be less able and less willing to fulfill its historic role as America's key ally, pointing to a declining and aging population, a low tolerance for immigration, deeply embedded resistance to necessary root and branch reform, slow economic growth, political stagnation, and a refusal to seriously engage in defence modernization. Their bottom line is that while the U.S. should seek good and fruitful relations with Europe, it should not kid itself that [Europe] can ever again be the robust and loyal partner that it once was.

The optimists argue that prophecies of Europe's decline are greatly overstated....Europe has a) over 100,000 troops overseas, b) supported every U.S. military actitivity since the end of the Cold War except Iraq, c) complements the U.S. in important ways, d) exercises considerable soft power, e) expanded and continues to expand the zone of democracy eastwards, f) is a pioneer of international aid, and g) has a compelling social model that appeals to large parts of the world."

As the report almost says, the reality may be a mix of both (plus some things it doesn't mention).

Recent events in France would seem to add to the pessimist's case. But France is not all of Europe. Some of those among the most critical of the state of France, such as Nicola Bavarez, author of La France qui tombe, emphatically distinguish it from other countries. See: Why a sick France needs a true cultural revolution. Is he right?

1 comment:

Caspar Henderson said...

Why a sick France needs a true cultural revolution
By Nicolas Baverez
Financial Times
November 13 2005

The riots that have swept 300 French towns and cities in the past two weeks constitute a new and dramatic illustration of the pre-revolutionary situation that prevails in France. The latest violence comes in the wake of street protests in 1995, the shock of the 2002 presidential election and the electoral revolt of the May 2005 referendum on the European Union constitution.

On one side, desperate youths, prisoners of the housing estates, deprived of training and employment, lock themselves into delinquency and pursue a nihilistic violence that excludes all forms of representation or political expression. On the other side, an absence of leadership translates into a disproportionate official response, with recourse to the 1955 law governing states of emergency and curfews. This hardens the contours of a civil war – the only antecedents being Algeria in 1955 and New Caledonia in 1985 – and contrasts sharply with the weakness of government proposals for integration: for example, lowering the age of apprenticeship to 14; extra housing subsidies; creation of a "national cohesion and equal opportunity" agency; and assigning government officials to equal opportunity duties.

The intifada in the suburbs is not a matter of class struggle, nor – for the moment – of religious confrontation: it is a war of race, generation and caste, inseparable from France's big national crisis. Admittedly, all European countries confront problems integrating immigrant populations, aggravated by the threat of fanaticism and Islamist terrorism. But while many national models are in crisis, the severity of France's troubles is explained by four specific reasons.

First is the concentration of the population of foreign origin in some 750 urban ghettos and official tolerance of large-scale clandestine immigration. This enables people to benefit from a quasi-official status that guarantees access to certain social assistance and most public services.

Second is the entrenchment of unemployment affecting 10 per cent of the active population – but 38 per cent of young people from immigrant backgrounds and up to 70 per cent of people in certain ghettos.

Third is the disintegration of the French model, with the failure of urban policies that aggravate social segregation, despite the government's investment of more than €34bn ($40bn) since 2000. This failure also encompasses the education system, which every year disgorges 161,000 young people who lack training, and the over-regulated labour market, which reinforces protection for a limited core of the active population while transferring risk and insecurity to the most vulnerable, and setting impassably high entry barriers for young immigrants.

Finally, and above all, is the dysfunction of a Malthusian economy and society which, under the cover of an abstract concept of "equality", practises a pitiless form of apartheid in which the state willingly – and indiscriminately – pours out cash transfers and assistance while the route to society and citizenship remains closed.

The current insurrection cannot fail to worsen France's crisis, widening the gulf that separates the country, as defined by its laws, from the reality, and separating those who exercise public power from the rest of society. This reinforces extremist passions and xenophobia, undermines public confidence, degrades the country's competitiveness and breaks apart the body politic and the nation. It could, however, help to show French people that there is no solution to their current difficulties without a change to the system.

This urban violence is not an aberrant tumour on a healthy body; it is a tumour grafted on to a country that is the sick man of Europe. The outcome of this crisis cannot simply be a new arsenal of repressive measures and social assistance. Resolution of this crisis requires a true "cultural revolution" with the drastic rejuvenation of the ruling class; encouragement of mobility and social mixing (notably wider access to university courses and to business opportunities); the abandonment of Malthusian economics; and the rediscovery of productivity and work – which along with education, is the key to integration. It also involves introducing a culture of efficiency in public services and refocusing the state-as-provider on the economic inclusion of the excluded.

The suburbs thus hold up a mirror to the true face of France in 2005 which, because it has let itself be diverted from necessary reforms by a populist and irresponsible political class, finds itself in a state of insurrection, combining civil war with diplomatic failures that sets it apart from the world and the Europe of the 21st century.

The writer, a historian and economist, is author of La France qui tombe (Perrin)